GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 03: Mike Gillislee #23 of the University of Florida Gators attempts to run past Marcus Bartels # 27 of the Florida Atlantic University Owls during a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 3, 2011 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Scouting Report is a series that will run on Friday through the rest of the Florida football season, spotlighting players who could have major impacts on the Gators' games.
Finally, Mike Gillislee (Jr. RB) looks like he will get his chance to shine for the Florida Gators. The hard-running reserve has sat behind Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps for two years, but injury and need have conspired to give him a bigger role than ever before for the Gators, perhaps even a start.
Can Gilly give Florida enough to get a win over Auburn on the road?
Gillislee's bigger than Rainey and Demps, checking in at 5'11" and 198 pounds. He might be shorter than that listed height, but he certainly runs fearlessly enough to make the weight seem right.
He's quick and fast, and is really done a disservice by the world-class speed the rest of Florida's stable possesses; few running backs nationally could make Gillislee look good to average, but Rainey and Demps are among them. Gillislee's better between the tackles, though: He's got the strength to steam into a tackler, and the vision to make a cut and explode through a hole, something Demps can still struggle with. He also has the discipline to avoid the occasional happy feet that have plagued Rainey.
Gillislee's never started for Florida, but he's piled up yardage in garbage time. In 2011, he has 34 carries for 242 yards, a 7.12-yards per carry average that eclipses Rainey's, and two touchdowns; in his Florida career, he's run for 834 yards on 123 carries (6.78 yards per carry), and scored 10 rushing touchdowns. He has just one receiving touchdown, a six-yard reception from John Brantley against Troy in 2009.
The consensus here and at virtually every place on the Internet that Florida fans congregate is that no one runs harder than Gillislee. I'd take it even farther than that: Gillislee's desire as a runner reminds me more of Tim Tebow than any Florida running back of recent vintage. Gillislee's philosophy on running hard is like soul food for the Gators fan:
"Every time I run the ball, I never know when I’m going to get it again," he said, "so I try to run it as hard as I can while I’ve got it."
On the field, it shows.
Gillislee's rise is also testament to the value of consistent hard work in practice. A lesser player or teammate would have groused about being buried behind Rainey, Demps, and the less effective Trey Burton; there's never been even a whisper about Gillislee's commitment, and he's been lauded by Charlie Weis this week.
In Florida's Offense
Gillislee starting on Saturday would be an indication that Weis wants his offense to run the ball right at Auburn. If he starts, expect runs up the middle and off tackle to replace some of the sweeps and tosses that Rainey and Demps have run in 2011; Gillislee can bounce plays to the outside, but he's more likely to rip off five- or seven-yard gains on a consistent basis inside. I wouldn't be stunned to see wildcat plays with Rainey taking the snap and Gillislee sweeping, either.
Gillislee shouldn't be expected to make much noise in the passing game, though, as he's had just seven catches in three years.
Projection Vs. Auburn
Gillislee's stock has never been higher, and he might be inheriting a Florida offense that is both more committed to running with its backs to win than any Gators team since the Ciatrick Fason era and well-positioned to do damage against a pliant Auburn defense.
Let's go out on a limb and look for good-to-great from Gillislee: Over 100 yards, including a pair of carries for more than 20 yards, and at least one touchdown in a Florida win.
For more, discuss Gillislee and the Gators in the FightinGators.com forums.